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More On ID
As I said, I've discussed this in depth previously, and I suspect that Professor Reynolds (John Mark, not Glenn) is reading some things into my comments that I don't intend.
I understand that this is not a science discussion, but a science (and philosophy) metadiscussion. That is, a discussion about how to discuss it.
I (unlike many scientists and evolutionists) recognize that science is a philosophy in itself, and one that is faith based. I don't know if anyone followed my link to my previous discussions on this topic, but it would have been helpful if they had. Particularly if they continued to follow the links back to this post and this one.
For instance, I wrote:
The problem with creation theories is not that they're inconsistent with the evidence--they are totally consistent, tautologically so, as Eugene [Volokh] says. The problem is that they tell us nothing useful from a scientific standpoint. In fact, there are an infinite number of theories that fit any given set of facts. I can speculate not only that all was created, but that it was created (complete with our memories of it) a minute ago, or two minutes ago. Or an hour ago. Or yesterday. Or the day before. Or, as some would have it, 6000+ years ago. Each is a different theory (though they all fall into a class of theories) that fit the observable facts. They are all equally possible, and all (other than some form of naturalistic evolution) untestable.
With regard to my statement that science is a philosophy that rests on faith, I wrote the following:
Belief in the scientific method is faith, in the sense that there are a number of unprovable axioms that must be accepted:
I'm not saying that Professor Reynolds is ignorant of evolution, and I apologize for simply snipping so much old stuff rather than responding directly with new prose, but it's frustrating to rewrite things I've written in the past, and it's important for him to understand that I am not arguing the truth of his or my beliefs--I am only arguing about what the name of the class in which they are taught should be.
He claims that the boundary between science and non-science is not the clear bright line that I claim it to be. He also claims that not all scientists are Popperians.
Perhaps. I can only speak to my own view of what constitutes the scientific method, which I believe (notwithstanding my heresy about it relying on faith in the form of unprovable axioms) is reasonably mainstream among practicing scientists.
My own gripe about science education in this country is that it's not taught as a philosophy of how to attain knowledge, but rather it's simply taught as a compendium of "facts" that must be learned. Given that it starts out with this fundamental misunderstanding (promulgated, unfortunately, by many incompetent science teachers), it's not surprising that many take umbrage at the teaching of "facts" that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
So if science is a religion (in the sense of a belief system, which I think it is), then is it a legitimate subject for public schools? As I've said previously, this is largely a symptom of a much larger problem--the fact that we have public schools, in which the "public" will always be at loggerheads about what subjects should be taught and how. But given the utility of learning science (something that I employ every day, whenever I troubleshoot my computer network, or figure out what kinds of foods are good or bad for me), I think that it is an important subject to which everyone should be exposed. But if I were teaching evolution, I would offer it as the scientific explanation for how life on earth developed, not a "fact" or "the truth."
The problem arises when some scientists, blind to their own faith and its tenets, come to believe that their beliefs represent Truth, and that those who disagree are fools and slack-jawed yokels. And with that, I come full circle in once again agreeing with Hugh that the media does a disservice to the debate when it doesn't respect the beliefs of those who feel that their children are being indoctrinated away from their faith.
[8:15 PM EST update]
In response to Carl's comment (see comments), I'll republish a post from early in this blog's life, almost three years ago:
Several years ago (probably more than a decade), I saw a special on my local affiliate of the Public Broadcasting System (so named because that's who pays for it--not, in a manner similar to National "Public" Radio, because it's necessarily of any particular benefit to them) called something like "The National Science Quiz."
Of course testing theory against empirical data is crucial to understanding how the process works, but my concern is that the system is out of balance. If Carl believes that it's currently all theory, that's clearly as wrong as it being all fact (and given the educational system and educational degrees in general, I suspect that much of the "theory" being taught is wrong as well).Posted by Rand Simberg at December 29, 2004 11:49 AM
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The controversy over Intelligent Design has been in my thoughts lately, and what I was thinking about it before I read this post at Transterrestrial Musings (and partly inspired by previous related posts and some of the comments) was that Intelligen...
Tracked: December 29, 2004 12:47 PM
More on Intelligent Design Vs. Evolutionary Biology
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ID ... Science???
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the censorship excuse
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randomness and design
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ID Debate boucing around the Blogosphere
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Rand Nails It On Intelligent Design
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Tracked: April 6, 2005 09:53 PM
3) Its nature can be revealed by asking questions of it in the form of experiments
Just out of curiosity, is there any major religion that has, as a fundamental tenet, the requirement to question its own beliefs?
My direct knowledge of religions is very limited, but I was certainly discouraged from asking questions when I was in Sunday school, or first communion classes.Posted by AndrewS at December 29, 2004 12:18 PM
Rand ruffled some "red" feathers and now seeks to make amends. ID? Evolution? Hey its all equal, right?Posted by Bill White at December 29, 2004 12:37 PM
What in the world are you babbling about, Bill?Posted by Rand Simberg at December 29, 2004 12:58 PM
For what it's worth, I'm a scientist (in the sense that I publish peer-reviewed articles based on original research), and also lay reader and chanter in the Greek Orthodox Church. Couple of semi-random thoughts:
1) The Eastern Orthodox Church, as does the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church, encourages the objective examination of the world and the faith. For example, scientists examining miracles are required to take an oath to report the truth "no matter how unpopular or distressing" to the faith. That's pretty close to AndrewS's question.
2) I strongly disagree with the concept that science is a belief system on par with religion. I would say it is a parallel system - a functional method for understanding the physical world around us, based almost solely on his axiom #1. Science is "how", religion is "why". The Orthodox (and Catholic) viewpoint is that if there is a conflict between science and the faith, it is either due to an incomplete understanding of the science, or a misunderstanding of the faith. I would also argue that it is dangerous to suggest that science is a belief system - that feeds right in to those who would discount the scientific process because it disagrees with their faith.
3) Rand's "unprovable axiom #1", that there is an objective reality, is in my view the price for admission to the discussion - it is pointless to have a rational discussion with someone not holding that view. Religion should hold this axiom as well, but it doesn't have to. That's one thing that separates the two. Axiom number 2 is, in my view, not an axiom at all: it is either demonstrated by repeated observations or not.Posted by Chuck Watson at December 29, 2004 01:21 PM
Wow, great post!
I especially liked this bit: "The problem arises when some scientists, blind to their own faith and its tenets, come to believe that their beliefs represent truth, and that those who disagree are fools and slack-jawed yokels." Although, to be fair, that's only half the problem...
And, AndrewS, I may get corrected here, but I believe it is a major aspect of Judaism that individuals are expected to question their beliefs and God.
Likewise, I believe that Protestantism requires individuals to come to their own understanding of God, rather than accepting dogma. Which, in a way, is the same as questioning the entire thing...Posted by Matt Knowles at December 29, 2004 01:27 PM
It's a good post, sound and sensible as always. An additional comment, as someone who has been fairly involved in science education for many years:
My own gripe about science education in this country is that it's not taught as a philosophy of how to attain knowledge, but rather it's simply taught as a compendium of "facts" that must be learned.
If only! The contrary fact is that, in many areas of the country (California stands out) the emphasis in the last two decades has become so strongly on teaching science as a philosophy that science as a body of experimental fact has been given woefully short shrift.
What RS perhaps underemphasizes is that theories and philosophy are of limited use (indeed frequently dangerous) before one has mastered a substantial body of empirical fact with which to test and understand them.
Aristotelian science produced spectacularly wrong theories (e.g. in chemistry) that hampered technology in medieval Europe in part precisely because European medieval thinkers (often monks) had a mistaken reverence for a 'correct' philosophy of science and the 'correct' scientific method, and failed to understand the importance of measuring and re-measuring all the facts one can.
It is noteworthy that the earliest breakthrough experiments of the Enlightenment did not make use of novel apparatus -- that is, could have been done in any of the previous five centuries. But they were not, in part because the 'correct' scientific philosophy of the day said they didn't need to be.
Even today, it is rare to find an adult who really appreciates the importance of doing even those experiments the results of which you think you can predict with certainty.
Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes say: 'It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts.' Unfortunately, too many of our youngest schoolchildren are being asked to do just that. They are showered at earlier and earlier grade levels with abstract concepts of testability, scientific method and philosophy of science long before, and very frequently in place of being taught good basic observation and measurement skills, and being asked to build up their own repository of settled facts and concrete observations.
To my mind it is not surprisingly, therefore, that many of our 18 to 25-year-olds are surprisingly cynical and flexible about empirical truth. Many have been raised on a steady diet of theory and only a thin stream of direct personal measurement, and are somewhat unaware of the supremacy of a single measurable fact over the most convincing and beautiful of theories. Many are consequently willing to adhere to a post-modernist consensus-reality vision whereby the truth is what the majority votes it to be. Not good. But, unlike most observers, I attribute this to an overdose of theory and concomitant underexposure to measurement.
Where this intersects the evolution debate is here: the time and energy spent explaining the theory of evolution (which I personally think is as convincing as Newtonian gravity) may be better spent teaching children much better skeptical observation skills, and a much larger set of empirical facts about genetics, cells, heredity, ecology and natural selection, none of which raises the ire of the ID crowd.
Then, at least when our children grow up and debate the theories they want our grandchildren to learn, they will have an informed debate, because they will share an understanding of a great pool of measured biological fact.Posted by Carl Pham at December 29, 2004 01:47 PM
"theory of evolution"
*sigh* Which theory are you referring to when you say this? When your grandchildren grow up they will be hopefully astounded there was a debate.Posted by Daveon at December 29, 2004 02:24 PM
Carl makes an excellent point: "
Many are consequently willing to adhere to a post-modernist consensus-reality vision whereby the truth is what the majority votes it to be. Not good."
On a separate but semi-related point, I have recently wondered if there's something better than the scientific method. Specifically, the requirement that one forms a hypothesis and does an experiment to support or refute it. There's a well-documented cognitive error, confirmation bias, where people tend to notice things that confirm their pre-existing beliefs and ignore those that don't agree. Granted experiments are supposed to be repeatable, but still, doesn't it seem possible that a method based on confirming hypotheses might have built-in biases?Posted by Lynne Wainfan at December 29, 2004 02:53 PM
Which theory are you referring to when you say this?
Abiogenesis is the sticking point. Serious ID people rarely contest what they call 'microevolution,' which means they generally accept classical Darwinian evolution, whether they realize that or not.
When your grandchildren grow up they will be hopefully astounded there was a debate.
I believe you are mistaken. Whether the universe requires an intelligent -- or really anthropomorphic -- designer has been debated through recorded history, and to my eye the general terms of the debate, and the rough proportion of people who finally believe yes versus no have not changed.
The debate we have today does not strike me as different in its broad essence to debates the Romans had in 300 AD. Short of some eugenic change to the species that alters the way we think, I would not be surprised if the same general debate is still taking place in 4000 AD.
Technology changes on a timescale of centuries. People don't. But the fact that the debate is unlikely to end doesn't vitiate attempts to change its terms and tone, as I've argued should be done via improved science education. It's possible the eternal debate serves a useful social purpose by its mere existence, in that it keeps a healthy balance between skeptical empiricism and those social myths necessary for us to prosper and be moral people. It is also possible for the debate to serve this social purpose better by being argued more responsibly.
An analogy: people have debated for centuries the proper role of government in our economy and moral life, and will probably do so forever. The debate is socially useful, as it keeps a healthy balance between the effectiveness of central authority and the efficiency of distributed markets. What is noteworthy about the American form of this debate initiated in 1787 is that we do it peacefully, through campaigns and elections, not through guns and IEDs, and the losers are not disenfranchised, dispossessed, or killed, but form a loyal opposition that keeps the winners honest more efficiently than periodic armed rebellion.
If the eternal debate over evolution were moved to a more responsible basis, it would be possible for the masses to check the arrogance of experts, and for experts to check the superstitious folly of the masses, far more efficiently than do periodic wars between the heirs of Voltaire and of Joan of Arc.Posted by Carl Pham at December 29, 2004 03:12 PM
I probably come at it from a different direction, but I largely agree with Chuck Watson's comments. I see a consistent world that works by rules of logic. It is irrelevent whether it is "all a dream" that happens to work that way or is the base reality - until something comes along to show otherwise, there is no useful distinction. I do not have "faith" in objective reality. It is an assumption that potentially could be shown to be wrong (now where is that red pill ... ?).
However, there are areas that simply cannot be covered by objective argument. I have beliefs about what is "right" or "wrong." While I can make some arguments based on biology, ultimately the arguments are subjective. By the same token, belief in the supernatural - things that do not have an objective existence - is also a subjective belief. Both my personal morality and a belief in "god" are not questions of science, but different aspects of "faith."
The problem comes when someone tries to argue against objective reality because of some historical aspect of their faith based belief system. We're talking about evolution here, but this also applies to the age of the earth, geocentrism, the nature of other worlds in space, the "world flood", and so on. Unfortunately, some have such strong belief in these things no evidence or logic can possibly sway them. That's fine: Discuss it all you want, as we are here, or in church, write books about it. But it doesn't belong in the science classroom.Posted by VR at December 29, 2004 03:20 PM
Or, more concisely, faith in the objective reality of sense experience equals faith in the supernatural. I think not!Posted by tc99mman at December 29, 2004 03:44 PM
"4) The simplest explanation that fits the facts is the one that should be preferred"
Occam's Razor is, I think, no part of science, but merely a human preference.Posted by John "Akatsukami" Braue at December 29, 2004 07:29 PM
If our public schools would simply leave our children with the ability and willingness to wonder about the possibility of "intelligent design," the acrimony would probably be gone from most discussions/debates of the teaching of evolution through natural selection.Posted by Micajah at December 29, 2004 08:25 PM
ATHEISTS ARE NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF CHICKEN-S**T LITTLE COCKROACHES THAT ARE TOO SCARED TO LOOK AT THE REALLY BIG PICTURE, AND THAT IS THAT WE ARE TOO COMPLEX TO HAVE JUST 'EVOLVED'. THEY DON'T HAVE THE BALLS TO ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE OUTCOME OF TRUE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH, AND THAT IS THAT SCIENCE DOES IN NO WAY DISPROVE INTELLIGENT DESIGN, BUT RATHER GOES TO WHOLLY PROVE IT. IT IS INCONCEIVABLE TO ANYONE WITH HALF AN OUNCE OF INTELLIGENCE THAT MATHEMATICS (WHAT ALL EXISTENCE IS BASED ON)COULD JUST SUDDENLY 'COME INTO BEING JUST BECAUSE'. THIS IS NOT ONLY CHILDISH, BUT DOWN RIGHT INSULTING TO THE POWER THAT BROUGHT US INTO EXISTENCE IN ORDER TO GLORIFY HIMSELF-GOD IS HIS NAME, AND TESTING IS HIS GAME. LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE, SO LIVE IT, AND TRY TO GAIN MATURITY AT THE SAME TIME.Posted by PETE at December 30, 2004 01:28 AM
I fail to understand why evolution cannot be used by an intelligence. The ID people may be correct or not when they say intelligence designed the various forms of sight organs (a human eye is not the same as a squid's eye, and in some ways - eg the "blind spot" - less perfected). But when they say they believe something as complex as an eye was created directly, with no small steps, they seem to be saying that since they can see no reason for using a tedious process rather than a "simple" miracle neither can the Supreme Intelligence: I fear I get turned off by the arrogance of the position before the merits. Of course there is similar arrogance on the part of some proponents of Evolution...
Rand, I think you're bending over backwards to avoid being arrogant or elitist, which is fine, but in the course of your exercise in good manners, you've actually belittled science. Science doesn't depend on only one mode of inquiry, it uses several: experiment, statistics, and prediction to hit the high points. Unlike religion, science is self-critical and objective, requiring the practitioner to subject his data and his findings to public scrutiny and requiring that all experimental results be repeatable. There are no "one time special miracle deals" in science.
The ID debate is fundamentally silly because the ID position is so completely beside the scientific point. It simply doesn't matter to a biologist whether there's a god or not, he has to figure out the mechanisms that are apparent in the physical world. Similarly, it doesn't matter whether there's an objective reality or a collective delusion as we have to answer the same questions regardless.
The real danger of ID is that it seeks to further dumb down American science education by providing an easy out from the hard questions of research, experimentation, statistics, and evidence that provide us with our scientific insights. Especially at a time when genetic engineering is emerging as an applied science, it's crucial that we don't have a larger group of people dealing with questions of biology and evolution with "it doesn't matter how it works, all I need to know is that God did it."
Logically, ID is no different from the belief that the universe was created by a Giant Pink Bunny. While it may very well have originated that way, we still have to figure out how it was done, and the best tools we have for doing that are aimed at separating a collective and portable system of knowledge from one that's based on subjectivity, whimsy, and a direct pipeline to the Almighty.Posted by Richard Bennett at December 30, 2004 03:08 AM
Brilliant post. Thanks.
In all this debate, I surmise that the ID advocates concede that they cannot propose a test or experiment that would falsify ID theory. At least, I haven't seen any such experiment described anywhere. From this I conclude that ID theory is not science as we commonly understand that term.
Scientific theories are interesting insofar as they lead to experiments (either physical or mental) that lead to further knowledge and understanding. Theories that are not susceptible to testing, refinement, and refutation are just uninteresting. Newton's Laws of Motion were eventually discovered not to work at very great speeds or very small distances; that's part of their beauty. (Query: does entropy apply on the quantum scale?)
One other aspect of ID theory that undermines its claim to be a scientific theory is that its adherents are apparently all or almost all fundamentalist Christians. There don't seem to be any Buddhists, Hinduists, Taoists, Shintoists, Jews or Muslims who advocate ID theory. This could be a coincidence, but it's probably not. Science is universal; it requires the beliefs that Rand sets out above, but not any other belief system. That is why the theories of relativity and evolution can be taught in universities around the world among peoples of widely divergent religious faiths. This is merely evidence supporting the conclusion that ID theory is not science but religious faith disguised as science; the key evidence is the lack of an experiment that would disprove the the theory.Posted by DBL at December 30, 2004 05:52 AM
First time visitor. So impressed by the level of discussion in this blog. Especially by the willingness of those with a great deal of information and intelligence to avoid smugness. I think that Mr Bennett falls into that trap and fails to see the assumptions (some of them false) which his 'logic' does not help him to question.
1.Doubt is integral to faith and most believers are unbelievers as well because true faith means that we are willing to walk out into the abyss and belive what we cannot see, and we are too frightened most of the time. Faith is a dialogue and involves self examination.
2.Huge amounts of scientific effort have been expended on behalf of religion: translators, linguists, historians, archeologists etc etc have worked to further understand biblical texts and artifacts through methods that are not based on "subjectivity, whimsy, and a direct pipeline to the Almighty."
3. Consider Man's ability to take a "gulped down position" on many things from "Jimmy Choo's will make my legs look like Cameron Diaz's" to belief in much much more flimsy systems like crystals and psychics and astrology - and celebrity. In my observation, "Man" is not turning away from the Christian God to seek a world in which everything is subject to scientific methods and disciplined investigation. Those who believe "it doesn't matter how it works, all I need to know is that Steven Spielberg did it" or "my psychic told me" are also those people who are dealing with questions of biology and evolution. Sorry to be so long- winded but your problem, Mr Bennett, is not God but man.
5. And I would say that a man who believes in the 10 Commandments would be more likely not to forge or bend the truth than a guy who felt that there was 'nothing wrong unless it hurt somebody'. Scientific fact is being disproved all the time and especially in the area of statistics and social behavior there are whopping amounts of unveriafiable and unrepeatable sh*te floating about. We are not an orderly or, in your definition, scientific species.
6. Finally it doesn't really matter to 99% of us "how the universe actually came into being". It has no impact on our lives. "Why" does. But that should not mean that we throw away reason. Faith cannot be proved, it must come before reason. But after faith, reason. God gave you a brain and not a turnip. (with apologies to Aquinas among others). I would ak you this "If you could be a good man or an intelligent man, but not both, which would you chose to be?" and Why?
Given the state of public education, the role of television in society, and the fact that he's available - we're planning on running a series on Intelligent Design for school curriculums using Bill Nye, of 'Bill Nye the Science Guy', before Boeing pulled its funding.
Bill Nye the I-D Guy
We're planning on having Bill wear something vaguely clerical instead of his usual lab coat.Posted by PublicTVGuy at December 30, 2004 06:17 AM
ht:hh. Taking things one bit at a time rather than responding to the entire debate.
They are all equally possible, and all (other than some form of naturalistic evolution) untestable.
I'm sorry, Rand, but this is incorrect. Naturalistic evolution is not testable in that it is not repeatable. You can't replay the transition from fish to amphibian to reptile to bird. Evolution takes on faith that the same mechanism of common ancestry that results in the difference between a dingo and a dachshund also explains the difference between a diatom and a duchess.
So if science is a religion (in the sense of a belief system, which I think it is),...
There you have it, in a nutshell.
Back to reading...
if there is a conflict between science and the faith, it is either due to an incomplete understanding of the science, or a misunderstanding of the faith.
Chuck, well said. Ron Stoner in his excellent book "A New Look at an Old Earth" says much the same thing.
Logically, ID is no different from the belief that the universe was created by a Giant Pink Bunny.
This is precisely the kind of comment that is unhelpful in this discussion. It also implies that you have no logical counter and are left with nothing but ad hominem attacks.
My understanding is that ID is an alternative explanation of the observable facts. To my mind, it is a more satisfactory explanation for irreducibly complex structures and systems than blind chance. It is also IMO more intellectually honest than naturalism.
Science is supposed to be about inductive investigation - look at the facts, examine the evidence no matter where it leads.
But many scientists begin with the deductive proposition that there is no intelligence behind the Universe. It is this unspoken assumption that creates what Lynn W. referred to as observational bias. Any evidence of design must either be ignored, reinterpreted, or discounted.
Posted by corrie at December 30, 2004 06:42 AM
I dunno, Rand--I think you're stretching a definition to say that belief in the scientific method is a matter of faith. In my tiny little brain, "faith" means a belief in the despite evidence; indeed, in the absence of any hope to obtain evidence ("Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe"). The scientific method is, well, a method, a way of obtaining knowledge. It is not the only way, or the best way, but the best way we know. It continues to be used because it is demonstrably successful. Belief in the efficacy of the scientific method profoundly shapes how scientists view the world, but the ones I know are also well aware of its limitations, with most pursuing additional interests to obtain spiritual and aesthetic release.Posted by C. S. Froning at December 30, 2004 07:04 AM
I can only agree with Rand when he points:
“In fact, there are an infinite number of theories that fit any given set of facts. ...They are all equally possible, and all (other than some form of naturalistic evolution) untestable.”
I ask how can subjective humans say that there is an objective reality.
The scientific method is, well, a method, a way of obtaining knowledge. It is not the only way, or the best way, but the best way we know. It continues to be used because it is demonstrably successful.
The key words here are "best" and "successful." Once you use such words, you imply a set of criteria against which to judge them such. And that requires a subjective value judgement. Science is demonstrably the best way to achieve knowledge about the physical universe, and as a source of such knowledge for improving our lives, but if your goal is happiness not this world, but the next, then that's not relevant. And what our goals are will always be subjective.
I ask how can subjective humans say that there is an objective reality.
In exactly the same way that subjective humans can say there is a God in Heaven, who loves us.Posted by Rand Simberg at December 30, 2004 08:16 AM
Good points about science education. When I took high school chemistry, our first "experiment" was to boil water, plotting time and temperature, keeping records and making graphs.
So why argue over arguments and facts posted by scientists and lays, and not just reckognize them as their reality, where there is truth, for them too, Rand?Posted by Sermin T at December 30, 2004 08:42 AM
Great post and comments. I would like to adress a few of the Comments.
1. ID is only advanced by Fundamentalist Christians. This is your classic ad hominem and seems to be the major argument against ID it is a classic fallacy. disregard it as an argument.
2. The investigation of evolution how old things are and how fossils relate to current species is not an investigation using the scientific method at all but is an investigation into history using historical methods of testing facts not repeatable experiments. Much of science relies on this kind of evidence but you are mixing apples and oranges when you view the evidence that hydrogen is created out of water by pasing a DC current of electricity through it (demonstrated by repeatable experiment)and that a toad and a rat evolved from a common organism or that one celled animals gave rise to either one.
3. As we learn more scientific explanations change to match the observable and also may grow closer to Genises. In book "The Science of God"
4. All ID says is that the known biological facts point to life being designed by inteligence (not neccesarily God) rather than by random cause and effect and themechanisms set forth in evolutionary theory.
The reason Einstien was so succesfull was his relentless pursuit of explainations that comported with the known facts regardless of where they took him. Biologists must have the same courage today. Current evolutionary theory does not comport with the known facts. If ID does a better job of explaining the known facts it must be examined and tested. Even if it is also consistent with a philosophy you reject the observable facts must control. If evolution is the best explanation of the observable facts let it reign. The ID sirncrntists I know argue from the observable facts. The reason evolution is being accused of being a religion is that it does not explain or take into account many of the observablr facts. (please excuse the spelling I wrote this fast.)
Faith is nothing more than the willingess to proceed to operate in some way, based on a mental image, or a mentally constructed world or local view, that is not immediatly obvious or correlatable to data from the senses of taste, smell, touch, sight, or hearing.
There isn't a person alive that does not operate most of the time by faith. You don't know there is milk at the grocery store, but you get in the car and drive to the store on faith. You don't know that a wall swith will turn on the light before you try, but you reach for and flip the switch based on your faith that it will. Ever flip a swith to get out of the dark, and the light doesn't come on? Your faith was misplaced. Every person on this planet has a highly developed faith, and operates on faith in something. Thus, to say that scientists don't operate on faith is clearly not true.
Science claims that by excercising faith in its (a-priori) unprovables, and by following its defined method, you can know things. (Note I didn't say you can find truth, because to say that science leads to truth means that it also leads to falsehood. Newton was folling the scientific method when he coined his theories of motion which are now, in the world of relativity, are now universally agreed to be false. Therefore, Thomas Khun proposes saying only that the scientific method leads to better explanations. I would add that 'better' in this sense means only 'that which is currently most acceptable to the body of scientists. There's a ton of interesting sociological and psychological models that can be discussed about how a group of scientists actually comes to consensus about what is most acceptable. But that is for another time.)
So, we are all standing alone, with a gulf between us and any world view vying for our faith, and which requires a leap of faith to cross. Each person must make a leap of faith to get to any world view structure of their choosing. Then they reap the results of well placed or misplaced faith.
"Ah, says the scientists, but after making the leap of faith toward the scientific method, science then validates that the faith was warranted. You can finally 'prove' the postulate."
I would answer that by noting that Christ said, "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. [in other words, there is a God and he sent me with this method of living] If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." [i.e. Do what I am teaching and you will know that it is a method of living that has come from a God] Is this any less of a 'scientific' claim than what is put forth in the jornals of science? No. Each person can reproduce the steps and validate the claim.
Based on my experments I am now convinced that Christ's claim is true. How many of you others have tried to do what Christ taught and based on your own independent testing and validation can now say, "there is a God and what Christ taught is a higher way"?
See my two posts at http://wittingshire.blogspot.com , including an excerpt from the director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, Stephen Meyer. I also link to his full critique of demarcation arguments like the one you use, Rand. I will say yours is the most reasonable formulation of the demarcation argument I've seen in a while. All the same, it's bogus and I hope you'll read Meyer's full piece and rethink your position.
We can debate away till our lifes breath is but spent,however we all believe in what we think we know. Which is not that much if we really think about it.Posted by Paul at December 30, 2004 10:11 AM
Anyone who's interested in what the Discovery Institute is up to should read their "Wedge Strategy" document. Here'a a relevent part: The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge," was Phillip ]ohnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box followed Johnson's work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.
This isn't science, it's the subversion of science in the name of religion.Posted by Richard Bennett at December 30, 2004 10:35 AM
You said it's "dangerous" to teach that science is a "belief system."
But such is not only taught every day in our universities, such is believed by wide swaths of our intellectual elites.
Arguably the most influential book of the last 50 years was Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Instead of "belief system," Kuhn coined the term "paradigm," a word for our times. How many times in the last week have you heard some talking head use the word "paradigm?" It's a Kuhnian term.
It implies, if it does not assert, that all scientific theories are contingent (following Popper). A close corrolary is that all scientific knowledge is likewise contingent. Kuhn, and his progeny, typically place the word "knowledge" in scare quotes to let the reader know that there really isn't such a thing as "knowledge," but out of courtesy they will indulge the traditional vocabulary.
Do I agree with the Kuhnians? I don't, because I believe they confuse the history of science with the philosophy of science (but that debate is for another day).
I thought Rand's post was excellent. It should be required reading by school adminstrators and science teachers.Posted by MD at December 30, 2004 12:16 PM
I just wanted to add one comment to Rand's brief list of axioms that are assumed within science (and elsewhere).
Because they are axioms does not mean it's irrational to believe them.
It is entirely rational to believe some things without (logical) proof, and all people do this.
For example, it's entirely rational to believe there are minds other than my own, but such can't be proved.
It's entirely rational to believe that my senses and perceptions bear some correspondence to a physical reality outside myself, although this can't be proved.
And so forth.
Science is not based on logic, it's based on induction, and as any logician will tell you induction is always logically invalid [Kuhn and his followers hang their hats on this, and consequently go haywire].
That doesn't mean it's irrational. In fact, it's the logician who is often irrational. If one requires logical validity for one's beliefs, it's a very lonely and barren world, for such validity is hard to come by (if it's possible at all).Posted by MD at December 30, 2004 12:34 PM
What a refreshing post by Rand Simberg! It is exciting to read comments by someone who thinks. My own thinking is from the other perspective in that I am convinced that an intelligent creation requires an intelligent Designer. I can only wish that there were people on the ID side who were as willing to think and honestly discuss the issue.
A couple of posts in this thread illustrate why it is so frustrating to "debate" with ID supporters. Corrie writes as follows:
"Regarding an experiment to prove or disprove ID - I am not aware of any experiment that has proven (or disproven) evolution. Sauce for the gander, anyone?"
If this is the case, it's because Corrie has not looked very hard. There are tons of examples of facts that, if established, would disprove the theory of evolution (the standard example is if a mammalian fossil were found in Cambrian rocks, but as before, there are lots). They can be found in threads at Panda's Thumb, on Rand's original post, and at talkorigins.org. It is very frustrating to try to talk with people who expect to be spoon fed everything.
"My understanding is that ID is an alternative explanation of the observable facts. To my mind, it is a more satisfactory explanation for irreducibly complex structures and systems than blind chance. It is also IMO more intellectually honest than naturalism."
The usual straw man about "blind chance" is trotted out here (no one says evolution proceeds by blind chance; natural selection is not random); again, this is a point that is made over and over and over again. That Corrie appeals to it is evidence that she is not really interested in understanding the point of view of people who disagree with her, because she has made no effort to seek out that point of view. Somewhat more forgivable is the allusion to an "alternative explanation" for "irreducibly complex structures." People who follow the ID debate know that each of Behe's examples of irreducible complexity has been debunked (in that plausible evolutionary pathways have been proposed for each), and Behe has been forced to radically redefine "irreducible complexity" in order to keep it from collapsing entirely. Corrie can be forgiven for not knowing this. But what about "alternative explanations"? "Someone did it by mysterious means" is not an explanation of anything. This is no better than astrology.
Incidentally, it's interesting Corrie says ID is "more intellectually honest" than naturalism. Look at the sites devoted to the theory of evolution; they link extensively to ID and creationist sites and actively engage the authors. In contrast, ID advocates rarely engage their critics, and creationist sites rarely link to evolution sites. Behe has made half-hearted responses to his critics, as has Dembski, but nothing approaching any sort of real debate. That is because ID and creationism are not intellectually honest; they are interested in a political agenda. When they debate, they want to do it in formats that let them rely on their usual practice of quote-mining, "Gish galloping" (the tactic of reeling off dozens of unsound arguments knowing that time constraints preclude refuting them all), etc.
As I finish typing this I cannot avoid the palpable sense that writing it was 100% a waste of time. No one's mind will change; no one will make the slightest increased effort to understand the opposing view; no one will think a second time before saying something like "evolution relies on blind chance" or "evolution is not falsifiable" or other such things.
Boy, I'm depressed now.
Kudos to the blogosphere for this one!
I would like to make a minor quibble with Rand's point about "faith": The "faith" in unprovable axiom #1 is certainly different from the kind of faith one has in God or in Santa.
If someone throws a rock at you, you instinctively blink, flinch, get out of the way. That reflex is the product of very old, very conserved circuits that link a looming visual stimulus with motorneurons in our brainstem & cervical spinal cord. Those circuits are our organismal "belief" in the reality of the external world, e.g., looming rocks. Ironically perhaps, the scientific faith Rand speaks about is probably the product of personal empiricism (i.e., hard knocks and near misses) and innate, naturally selected schemas about the external world (i.e., looming object = duck!!).
Our ability to perceive and respond to the external world in an adaptive way is the product of what... a Creator? or evolution mixed with experience? I would vote for the second, but hey-- its a matter of faith!Posted by Bradley Cooke at December 30, 2004 02:34 PM
Corrie and TheoP (my son's name is Theo): I take it you can't propose an experiment that would disprove ID. To my mind, that means that ID is not a scientific theory. It may or may not be true but it's not science.Posted by DBL at December 30, 2004 04:21 PM
I'm gonna regret this, but has anyone here read The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and The Physics of Immortality? I think they both have a lot to offer with respect to adressing the meta-question as to whether the discussion of "Intelligent Design," which I personally take to mean "an interpretation of teleology that, of logical necessity, posits a consciousness exerting influence over the process," can or cannot be encompassed within the scientific method.Posted by Paul Snively at December 30, 2004 05:24 PM
Incidentally, with respect to the role of doubt and questioning in religious faith, I would point out that Luther, when called upon by the Emperor and Church to recant, said that he could not unless pursuaded by Scripture and clear reason, and that to violate conscience is neither safe nor sound. The Lutheran tradition remains for the individual to challenge both their faith and their understanding, and I note with some un-Christian pride as a Lutheran computer scientist that Don Knuth, one of computer science's heros, is Lutheran and has written Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About. which arose out of a lecture series at MIT that was organized by a Lutheran faculty member. (I was also pleasantly surprised to read that Guy Steele, another member of computer science's pantheon, designs programming languages because, among other reasons, he believes that's what God wants him to do.) So it would seem that the scientific/intellectual tradition in Lutheranism, at least, is alive and well.Posted by Paul Snively at December 30, 2004 05:35 PM
As I see it, evolution has had 100 years or so to be tested and verified as true. Yet, when I try to find unquestionable proof, I am presented with 688,000 odd references to follow through--I don't have time to study all of this, quite a lot of which is defensive work for or against evolution with little or no scientific proof, or simply definitions or polemics in favor of its being taught in the schools. Does someone have a recent reference or two to the accepted scientific proofs of the theory, that have deleted the awful hoaxes of the past?Posted by Jafar at December 30, 2004 05:53 PM
As I see it, evolution has had 100 years or so to be tested and verified as true. Yet, when I try to find unquestionable proof
I'm sorry, but this is why this debate will never end. Because people won't even read what's been presented in this post and its predecessor.
There is no "unquestionable proof" of evolution. There is no "unquestionable proof" of any scientific theory. Scientific theories are inherently unprovable, by their nature. All that we can do is to disprove their competitors. When those competitors (like ID) are by their own nature not disprovable, they are worthless, from a scientific standpoint. That is the entire point of this discussion.Posted by Rand Simberg at December 30, 2004 06:00 PM
Funny stuff. So someone/something is the intelligent designer. So who designed this intelligent designer?
End of story (see the stacked turtle parable).
Posted by Webster Hubble Telescope at December 30, 2004 06:19 PM
"Amen" to that. Refutation is part of the story. Confirmation is the rest. There is much evidence that confirms evolution (see above). One can imagine evidence that would refute evolution (see above). I am waiting for a real refutation. ID is the Paley Watch/Watchmaker argument in new clothes. Please, tell me about an "irreducible complexity" that has withstood scientific critique? So much nonsense . . .Posted by tc99mman at December 30, 2004 06:38 PM
Ok, good, I agree with Rand that evolution is an unprovable theory, but why is it that scientists and mathematicians who try to disprove evolution through use of modern scientific methods so vilified? There must be room for honest inquiry into the theory, but so many seem ready to declare it "true" and to cut off any further discussion.Posted by Jafar at December 30, 2004 06:46 PM
Ok, good, I agree with Rand that evolution is an unprovable theory
Of course you do, because it suits your agenda, particularly when you're so selective about it that you ignore my point that there is no such thing as a provable scientific theory.
but why is it that scientists and mathematicians who try to disprove evolution through use of modern scientific methods so vilified?
Because that's not what they try to do. They instead try to "disprove it" with unscientific methods, and to call them scientists (I'm not sure what relevance mathematicians have to this argument) is disengenuous.Posted by Rand Simberg at December 30, 2004 07:06 PM
I agree with your tenets of Science. Well, 1-3; Occam's Razor is a rule of thumb - a useful one, but hardly axiomatic.
We should note that Axiom 1 (Objective reality) is disputed by the Post-Modernists, and Axiom 2 (Universal laws) is disputed by most religions. I don't know of anyone who accepts 1 & 2 but disputes 3, though the ancient Greeks thought that experiments were terribly déclassé.
And while these are axioms, and taken on faith, there are two huge distinctions between Science and Religion even here.
First: We know we've taken these axioms on faith. We know what the axioms are, and we only hold to them as long as they work.
Second: They work.
The point of science is to build an accurate and predictive model of the physical world, and to that end it utterly eclipses every school of thought, every philosophy, every ideology and religion that has gone before. If you want to create a social or moral code, then there are other ways that may serve you better, but if you want to understand how the world works, science is your baby, every time.Posted by Pixy Misa at December 30, 2004 08:16 PM
They instead try to "disprove it" with unscientific methods....
You are showing a huge bias, Sir. You are judging anyone who tries to disprove evolutionary theory
Fascinating thread. Bible literalists such as myself do not take umbrage at evolution when defined as "adaptation". That has been directly observed, and proven. What we do not appreciate is to see evolution being taught as fact for the "Origin of everything". Is cannot be observed, and not scientifically proven. So if someone wants to teach it - go ahead, but don't teach it as fact!Posted by daniel at December 30, 2004 10:04 PM
This is essentially false since everything you write and believe depands on axiom #1 about there being an objective reality.
That is a Creation theory statement. You have no basis to make that statement except that the universe was created with such a metaphysical reality as you say. You inject Mind as an underlying nature in the universe which makes all further theorizing possible. Without Mind, there is no scientific standpoint of any kind. You insist upon a Mind/Creator who has made Objective Reality from which all rational thought and experiment flows, but then deny your own tautology has value.
You contradict yourself at the very start by insisting on an unprovable creation theory about reality as the basis of all you know while denying that such a theory can lead to useful science.Posted by mark butterworth at December 30, 2004 11:41 PM
Oh, the experient that proves ID? It's so obvious that you can't see it. It's called a thought experiment.
Just as you little thought experiment proves that everything you believe depends on axiom #1, so to doa few other simple statements that can be experimented upon with thought.
Can you get something from nothing?
Can you get life from non-life or emotion and reason from an emotionless and irrational universe?
Where is the universe? Since it is a place, it must be somewhere since all places are somewhere. So, where is the universe?
These questions lead to thought experiments and logical proofs which cannot be arrived at any otther way the same as the question -- does 1+1 always equal 2?Posted by mark butterworth at December 30, 2004 11:50 PM
I disagree with characterizing science as a "belief system" in the sense you write.
First, it is simply not necessary _actually_ to believe any axioms in order to work with them and gain insight. Euclid promulgated a set of axioms for geometry, and he may have believed them to be true, but modern students understand that there are alternative formulations that lead to interesting consequences.
Second, your "axioms" include things like "there is an objective reality" and "the objective reality obeys universal laws". Neither of these is actually necessary for the _conduct_ of the work of scientists. Certainly my contribution to physics lies in an abstract, idealized, 2D universe, with interesting but non-essential ties to experiment. Nor have I ever had to invoke the objectivity of reality to make it through the referees of Phys Rev Letters.
Finally, advertising science as "a belief system" draws a parallel that does not exist between science on the one hand and, on the other, all those folks for whom faith _in_and_of_itself_ is a path to salvation.
Science doesn't disprove Super Intelligent Design either.
In Intelligent Design we have a smart god.
In Super Intelligent Design we have a god so smart that he figured out how to make a universe work right without continuing interventions.
It wonders me why people prefer a half smart god to a really brilliant one.
Perhaps it is the idea of man being made on gods image.
Abiogenesis is the sticking point.
Carl, so your beef is with Abiogenesis and *not* evolution? They're not the same thing, they're not even covered by the same theories.
There's not even a sensible working hypothesis for Abiogensis that I'm aware of, however, it looks pretty clear that once life starts, it evolves.Posted by Dave at December 31, 2004 10:54 AM
believe you are mistaken. Whether the universe requires an intelligent -- or really anthropomorphic -- designer has been debated through recorded history, and to my eye the general terms of the debate, and the rough proportion of people who finally believe yes versus no have not changed.
Really? I don't think there is all that much of a debate in the UK, to be honest that is the case AFAIK in pretty much all of Europe. This is a very USA, Australia and South Africa thing.
I can see why the US and RSA might think that way, but I'm less certain about why ID or Creation is strong in Oz.
I think unlike the examples you give, this is something that can ultimately be tested and reviewed.Posted by daveon at December 31, 2004 11:00 AM
Can you get something from nothing?
Evolution doesn't posit something coming from nothing.
Can you get life from non-life or emotion and reason from an emotionless and irrational universe?
Yes, apparently you can get life from non-life, although we aren't certain of the mechanism. Sure, we know how to non-living sperm and fertilize a non-living egg (both non-living in the sense that neither possesses the perquisites for independent existence) but we don't know what blend of chemicals in the primordial soup will animate when struck by the appropriate bolt of lighting or volcanic explosion or meter of what have you. But we've also learned that the boundary between life and non-life isn't as absolute as we once thought. There are things like viruses that aren't actually living things in their own right that nonetheless mutate and have the ability to take over living cells.
As for emotion and intelligence, we can certainly construct machines that fake both of them pretty well, and there's a great deal of both in living things at several levels of sophistication.
Where is the universe? Since it is a place, it must be somewhere since all places are somewhere. So, where is the universe?
This is actually a nonsense question, just as "when did time begin" or "what was the cause of the first cause?" Let me explain: "place" is a concept that makes sense within the boundaries of space. As all space is contained within the universe, "where is the universe?" is the same as asking "where is where?". If you want to play that game, we simply ask you who designed the Designer, and send you crying from the discussion.Posted by Richard Bennett at December 31, 2004 12:13 PM
"we simply ask you who designed the Designer, and send you crying from the discussion."
The designer said: "I am".Posted by daniel at January 1, 2005 01:32 AM
"Of course, the argument to that is that the scriptures say that God grants us free will, which may be true, but once again, it isn't science" Sweet where is that quote? The one about free will, in the bible, right, great.
I ended up at your website via Hugh Hewitt. I was really drawn into the discussion but due to my limited education, I did not understand some of the finer points completely.
That is why I am writing to you personally. Sometimes I feel really dumb because of my lack of education, and I do get flamed by asking what some consider simple questions.
I followed most of what was being discussed until a point you made came up.
"There is no "unquestionable proof" of evolution. There is no "unquestionable proof" of any scientific theory. Scientific theories are inherently unprovable, by their nature. All that we can do is to disprove their competitors. When those competitors (like ID) are by their own nature not disprovable, they are worthless, from a scientific standpoint. That is the entire point of this discussion"
What is the difference between inherently unprovable and not disprovable? If a theory is unprovable, is it also not disprovable? Or is there a difference in the word meanings that I am not understanding correctly?
I really did like your article. From what I have heard people argue about the subject, what you have stated is basically what I kind of thought, but I could never have stated it correctly.
I also had another question, but after reading the following posting, I kind of figured that I would get ridiculed:
"This is actually a nonsense question, just as "when did time begin" or "what was the cause of the first cause?" Let me explain: "place" is a concept that makes sense within the boundaries of space. As all space is contained within the universe, "where is the universe?" is the same as asking "where is where?". If you want to play that game, we simply ask you who designed the Designer, and send you crying from the discussion.
Posted by Richard Bennett at December 31, 2004 12:13 PM"
Sometimes I wish I wasn't so ignorant. This material is really facinating.
makes a series of logical contradictions in his response.. Let’s take the most egregious first.
Place: an area with or without definite boundaries. (dict.)
According to human logic and reason, that would make the Universe a Place. Since we have established that the Universe is a place, it must be in relation to something else since every place must be SOME WHERE.
Some people say that it is the Place of all other places, but that would make the Universe a metaphysical entity - having Being or Thingness in Itself. Eternal and Infinite with Qualities such as Consciousness, Reason, and Emotion. For nothing can come of nothing, and so if the universe has creatures in it with consciousness, reason, and emotion - from whence did such qualities emerge?
But in a purely material and spiritless (no invisible reality) universe, how can that which is blind create an eye? That which is mute, create a tongue? That which is without mind, create minds?
You will note, Mr. Bennett, I have not asked you where is where, or the cause of the first cause, or who designed the Designer. (Although I would not say they were nonsensical questions. Aristotle didn’t think so, and I think he was a bit more astute in reason than yourself.)
The fact that there is life in this universe does not automatically imply that it came solely from non-life. You weren’t there and you haven’t duplicated it. Your examples are specious. The virus and the sperm and egg are already living things which transmit what they already possess or use what they have to take.
But you have yet to show how a material and lifeless universe can transmit that which it does not possess. Where in any protein or amino acid or stew of them do you find life being transmitted?
Also, since all life has purpose - where in the Mindless Universe did it get purpose from? (You may wish to say that Purpose to Life is not proven, but is some sort of mental construct, but with a little examination, you will be forced to conclude that it is completely impossible to remove Purpose from any single statement, idea, or meaning that you would use. Purpose is impossible to divorce from human reality. It is the very ground of thought and action and saturates every aspect of life. I would dare you to try and assert that is not so.)
So where does Purpose come from in a Mindless, material universe that is No Place?
Reading Behe and Dembski informs me that the synthetic theory of evolution (Mayr 1991)does not offer a convincing "scientific " explanation for the evolution of structures of "irreducible complexity" like the eye, the bacterial flagellum, the clotting mechanism of blood, etc. Indeed, a vast number of such entities can be listed! Biologists have presented explanations. Darwin's theories were attempts to explain these structures using natural rather than supernatural reasoning. The scientific community was eventually "convinced." The ID proponents do not find these explanations satisfactory. No laboratory bench experiment can be performed. The biochemical and structural "links" in the chain leading from simple to the supposed irreducibly complex structures and processes have not "fossilized." The rigorous standards of Behe and Dembski have not been met to their satisfaction. Do I have this right?Posted by tc99mman at January 9, 2005 10:02 AM
Dear Mr. Simberg:
I have been reading your blog with a great deal of interest after seeing it linked on, I believe, the Volokh Conspiracy. Fascinating discussions of science and ID, but I have a question for you. Why on earth would you take seriously, and bother to respond to, the comments of someone who states upfront that he believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old?
I respect religion, and I don't think anyone should be mocked for believing in things that can be neither proved nor disproved (God, life after death, Christ's resurrection, etc.). But why should people be entitled to any "respect" when they promulgate theories about the material (not spiritual) world that are laughably at odds with scientific evidence? It's worth noting that all this talk about the need to respect even irrational beliefs is limited to beliefs that (1) have the cachet of tradition and (2) are shared by a large number of the population. No one is asking for respect for believers in astrology. Nor would any conservatives feel compelled to show "respect" for the opinions of radical environmentalists who argued the recent tsunamis were caused by Mother Earth's anger at pollution and global warming.Posted by Cathy Young at January 10, 2005 12:11 AM
Cathy, I've responded to your question in this more recent post.Posted by Rand Simberg at January 10, 2005 06:38 AM
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